The View From Down Here – The Art Of The Promo

In the past week we’ve seen two promos that have received a surprising amount of attention from wrestling fans: The AJses and their talkings.


AJ Lee at the WWE cut a ‘scathing’ promo on the Total Divas reality shit TV show. It was a good promo, sure, especially for a WWE Diva, but it didn’t seem to push any of the storylines forward and was even hypocritical in some places. And it was almost completely ruined by the Bellas squealing like pigs at an abattoir and seriously bad non-acting from the others. Only Natalya reacted the way a Sports Entertainer should react, and we’ll get to that later. But it was a good promo in delivery; it was fine in content; it was hard to see where it fit in in terms of storyline.

AJ Styles at TNA on the other hand cut a promo to explain where his head’s been at. It was another good-ish promo, but during its course, he somehow turned a crowd that wanted to love him into a hostile one, and then somehow managed to get them back on side. He did not sound or look comfortable, and when he talked about ‘the guys in the truck’ it sounded like pandering. And he went on wa-a-ay too long. In delivery his promo was average at best; in content it was good; in storyline terms it was necessary and very good.

But neither were what I would call “great”.


So what makes a good promo? Well, as you might have been able to tell, there are three things I feel are important: delivery, content and storyline.


Delivery is first. You have to believe what you are saying, and then the audience will have a better chance of believing you as well. You need to have emotion, but the right emotion. And your body language and tone of voice have to match the words being spoken. John Cena will often cut a promo that is angry in the words used, but he is smiling and his tone is joking – poor delivery. This also includes length – too long and a promo loses its audience. See AJ Styles for an example of that.


Second is content. What you are saying has to be believable and has to involve, you know, wrestling. Listen to the promos from Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior prior to their Wrestlemania VI bout and tell me you wouldn’t want some of what they were having.

One other thing is you need to talk about your opponent. But if you put them down, then if you win you’ve beaten a chump, and if you lose it looks like a fluke or you look like a fool, and neither guy is helped by the outcome of the match. Better you talk up your opponents a little, and there are no finer exponents of that at the moment than Kazarian and Daniels in TNA, and back further, Arn Anderson was also supreme at this.


Next is storyline, either starting a new one or continuing an existing one. This is important. A promo for the sake of a promo might remind people you exist, but what purpose does it serve? There needs to be a valid reason for it.


Two other little things.


One – a stream of catchphrases do not a promo make. Sure, the Rock and Steve Austin used them a lot, but that was mainly for punctuation, not for pure content. Mr Anderson Kennedy Anderson needs to learn this.


Two – communication is a two-way street. There is projecting and there is receiving. This is why Natalya stood out. She looked genuinely pissed at what AJ Lee was saying, and let only her body language say that she was pissed. It was really good, and possibly (to me) the best part of the whole promo. While the others were doing banshee impersonations or fake yawning or looking like they were lost in a fog, Natalya was responding like a Sports Entertainer. And while we’re on the Bellas – do you hear Laertes heckling Hamlet during one of his famous soliloquys at Shakespeare in the Park? Did Mean Gene interrupt Hogan et al at Bash at the Beach? Did Cena interrupt Punks’ infamous pipebomb? No? Of course not; that’s because a person is making a speech and you respond to it without taking away from what they are saying. The Bellas were, quite simply, f*****g awful. Send them to acting school. Or something.


There are only a few promos that really stand the test of time, and only a few people renowned for nearly always cutting good ones consistently. Ric Flair was one of these people, always ready with his sharp tongue, but I’ve recently been watching all of WCW from 1996 and, boy!, did he have a lot of misses in that period, rambling, directionless promos. And yet when he was on form… well, look at his winning promo from Royal Rumble 1992 to see what sort of a talker the man really could be.


Professional wrestling does not exist in its own world between the ropes. There have to be reasons for what we see in the ring. And promos are the bread and butter of getting those stories across. And yet they sometimes seem to be the most under-practiced aspect of the arsenal of many a professional wrestler. It’s Sports Entertainment. That “Entertainment” bit needs to be as good as that “Sports” bit.


So, to finish:


Here are three of my very favourite promos:

Hogan joins Hall and Nash to form the New World Order.

The birth of Austin 3:16.

CM Punk’s recent “pipebomb”.


My 8 year old son’s favourite promo:

The Rock prior to the big 6-man Hell in a Cell.


And 2 guilty pleaure promos that I know I shouldn’t like… but do:

The Rock at Wrestlemania XX.

Vince Russo at Bash at the Beach 2000.


I know I shouldn’t like those last two because they break half the rules of cutting a promo. But sometimes the art – the entertainment value – overcomes everything else, and you’re left with something quite different indeed.

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